THE FRUITS OF FREEDOM
This tale was inspired by a photograph taken by a talented photographer and friend Eimear Jackson. The story came about from a suggestion by my writing group facilitator Ann Heffernan in a wonderful writing group that I was part of last Summer. The idea was to find a picture or photograph and write about it. It’s not my usual genre but the photo is so amazing I had to share it!
My family had always earned a living from fruit selling. When we were forced to move to Paris we continued the family trade there. Back in our homeland the men in the family were the breadwinners but my older brothers never made it to Paris… Here in a new and alien country it was down to me to provide for my ailing elderly parents. I felt nervous but at the same time exhilarated. I roamed the streets of Paris with my box full of juicy ripe plump peaches and shiny red waxy apples. It turned out I had a gift for selling and my wares were gone within two hours every morning.
Every day I bought more fruit from the farmer to sell at a tiny profit and saved a small amount for myself. After a tiring but happy year filled with long days of selling in all weathers, I was able to buy my very own fruit stall! I was able to get a spot in the market near the Seine. My life was full of potential and endless possibilities for the first time in my young life of 23 years.
Now 20 years later I had failed to move on any further. I still held my fruit stall down in the market. I was a spinster and I had one main job of providing for me and my poorly mother. My father had died the year before. Now it was just us and no man wanted to take on a woman of more than 40 years, never mind one with a sick mother to boot. My feminine self felt shriveled like the bruised pieces of fruit that no-one wanted to buy – wrinkled and dry.
My fruit stall which had injected me with such happiness at first; now trapped me. The peaches had lost their sweetness as had the other market sellers who were as worn out as I was. Every day I set up in the same spot seeing the same selfish and rotten sellers. I had a contract with the fearsome Market Holder Monsieur Jacquard and I felt there was no escape from this life; I had no choice but to provide for my mother and me.
One grey and drizzly October evening I returned to our little bedsit on Rue Veron. One room was all we could afford but it was clean and warm, our home. My mother had been sick for years with no sign of ever meeting her maker it seemed. As soon as I put my key in the door and said hello I knew something was different. My mother didn’t reply and I found her lifeless in her usual spot in her armchair. She had died here alone. I choked back tears and snot, somewhere deep inside me I felt a sense of relief despite my anguish over my mother’s passing. Now I only had to look after myself!
The days passed after my mother’s burial and a plan started to hatch in my brain. It wasn’t a very clever or clear cut plan but I knew to be totally free I would need to go through with it. I would destroy my fruit stall and with that my last link to Paris. I would set the fruit stall alight very early the next morning with some of the gasoline from our heater and watch it burn. I felt a streak of madness run through my veins. I wasn’t sure if I was losing my mind from grief or years of unhappiness but I felt alive for the first time in years.
Morning came and I wheeled my stall, heavy with overripe fruit down the streets in the early dawn light. I steered it down to the street where all the buildings were abandoned and derelict. I would burn the fruit stall here without fear of harming anyone or anything.
I poured some gasoline over the cart and lit a piece of cardboard and threw it at the cart backing away quickly; I stood mesmerized watching it light up with flames against the backdrop of the Sunrise. Warm orange, yellow and red colours flickered and it was hard to tell whether it was from the rising sun or the flaming fruit stall. I looked at in wonder and it was truly beautiful.
Among the burnished flames bursts of colour radiated from the burning stall – bursts of fruit juices from the peaches, apples and oranges spurted out from the fire. I doubt if there ever was a more fragrant or colourful fire in the world – burnt flesh of peaches, oranges and apples spattered out from the burning wooden cart.
As I walked away pieces of burnt fruits stuck in my hair and sticky juice and smoke streaked my face. The burning pieces of fruit bursting felt like the invisible shackles on me breaking. Sounds of exploding apples bursting like the links of tight chains I’d felt entrap me more and more over the years. I was free! I walked into the Paris early morning light fragrant with burnt fruity scents and I never looked back.
Now the cart can be found on the dilapidated street where I’d set it alight. Although the fragrance has long vanished the burnt cart inspires those trapped by their circumstances in life to strive to escape to the unknown.